Blood Orange isn’t the only innovative electronic artist and producer holed up in the East Village: a new documentary that premiered at SXSW last night, Hot Sugar’s Cold World, takes us inside Nick Koenig’s 14th Street loft as he repurposes the street sounds he obsessively records all over the neighborhood and the world. Produced by Danny McBride and Jody Hill and directed by Adam Bhala Lough (who has previously made documentaries about Lil’ Wayne and Lee Scratch Perry), the film starts with Koenig (aka Hot Sugar) recording a woman eating Pop Rocks. The end credits list every other sound that he documented for the film: everything from a cop sipping an energy drink, to Jim Jarmusch playing some electronic drums, to a couch being pushed out of a seventh story window on the Lower East Side.
Hot Sugar (Koenig says he came up with the name in middle school, when he was selling crushed Adderall) is truly obsessed with capturing noises, and he’ll spend 10 straight hours reworking the sounds he’s grabbed with his pocket recorder into the sort of song he performed live after last night’s screening, with trippy visuals projected behind him. (See video above.) But never does the term OCD come up. “When I listen to my songs I just remember being there the same way a photo will help you remember where you were when you took that photo,” he explains in the film. “You can take a stock sting and play with knobs and tweak it but you can’t replicate drums that I recorded in Times Square at 2am when a cab was honking and someone was throwing up 10 feet away from me. It’s going to sound like nothing else.”
Some of Koenig’s recordings make sense: as crazy as it may seem, you can understand why he’d pose as the assistant to a recording studio owner in order to get access to a $90,000 concert grand piano (the most expensive one he could find) and record it in action so he can sample it later. And you can’t totally blame him for violating Notre Dame Cathedral’s silence rules to record some clapping there (after the screening, he revealed that he tried and failed to sneak into the church’s pipe organ room). And you can kind of see why he and his buddy Martin Starr (Gilfoyle from Silicon Valley) would buy fireworks out of the trunk of some guy’s car so they can record them sparkling and exploding if Griffith Park.
But other things leave you scratching your head (which, come to think of it, Koenig would probably want to record): he has his 16-year-old “intern” call area morgues to see if they’ll let him record the silence of a room that has dead bodies in it. (They aren’t into the idea.)
The admiring intern turns out to be a source of tension between Koenig and his girlfriend Kitty, the young rapper and social-media sensation formerly known as Kitty Pryde, whose songs “Okay Cupid” and “Orion’s Belt” went viral in 2012. They eventually break up, and Koenig looks so downtrodden throughout the rest of the film that he kicked off yesterday’s post-screening q&a at the Ritz by saying, “Thanks for watch me be sad for two hours or whatever that was.”
But it’s uncertain whether Kitty is the source of his depression. He’s a fairly solitary dude who talks about how superficial his friendships are and how dumb most people are. He visits the grave of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor whose sister was killed in front of her, and records himself rubbing his hand on it. Later, he breaks into a restricted area of the Paris catacombs to record himself tapping a random skull with a femur. And he finally gets that recording of an empty room with a corpse in it: when an elderly neighbor friend dies, Koenig travels three hours to his funeral service.
“Honestly, recording sounds is the closest I have to having control over anything in my life,” he confesses.
At the end of the film he visits Neil deGrasse Tyson, who lends some scientific credence to some of Koenig’s theories about one of his favorite sounds: that of silence.
“When I first recorded silence and then made it loud,” Koenig said during the q&a, “I realized it sounded like a jungle of sound. That was really cool.”
Hot Sugar’s new album is God’s Hand and you can watch Hot Sugar’s Cold World will screen again today at 11am at Alamo Lamar and March 19, 2pm at Stateside Theatre.